If Johan Agebjörn weren’t Swedish, perhaps I’d have conjured up different imagery in my mind when listening to his beautiful, complex, and stunning latest album, Notes, released on Feb. 10 on Paper Bag Records.
But Agebjörn is Swedish and his music — even his work as the instrument-wielder in neo-Italo Disco outfit Sally Shapiro — comes off at least in part as a product of where he’s from.
Now, I’ve never been to Sweden, but before moving to New York I spent most of my life in Minnesota, so I know something about Northern European stoicism in the face of extremes.
Minnesota, that mythical place where Prince and Bob Dylan are from, attracted vast numbers of Swedes (and other Scandinavians) in the 19th and early 20th centuries, probably because it seemed sort of like Sweden: Cold and gorgeous in the winter and hot and gorgeous in the summer.
Those Swedes, and the immigrants who joined them in Minnesota from various other frosty regions, carried on despite a cold that freezes waterfalls in place and a heat that makes living seem stuffy and unbearable.
On Notes, Agebjörn’s atmospheric, kinetic arrangements — often sounding like Philip Glass with field recordings from nature combined with Mike Oldfield’s classic synthesizer experiments — take that stoic sentiment and place it inside the listener’s brain in a firm but careful fashion. There are a whole hell of a lot of extremes going on in the world right now, but on Notes Agebjörn and his guests give you the gift of serenity and resolve in the face of whatever. Come what may, my friends. Come what may.
It’s important to go into this record with a certain disposition. This isn’t a Sally Shapiro record (although she does show up for the delectable “Careful” and a cover of their friends Electric Youth’s “The Best Thing”). There aren’t driving disco beats. A flurry of electric piano notes, skittering about up and down the tonal spectrum pick up most of the slack.
There are precious moments and intimate, autumnal incidents driven by the icy vocals of Young Galaxy and Loney Dear, and synthesizer and string arrangements forged in the impermanence of existence, but there’s no local DJ with a crush on Sally.
All of that is just fine, though. Agebjörn has made a career of recording chill and ambient cuts alongside his danceable project with Shapiro, serving up a well-rounded offering of intricate genius.
Listen to the record below and then buy it. There are scores of places to get it, but here’s a start.